Investment Adviser v. Mutual Fund Manager

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“What’s the difference … and why pay fees to both?”

By Rick Kahler MS CFP®

Rick Kahler MS CFPQuestions – from doctors – like these remind me that the workings of the financial services industry which I tend to take for granted but can be confusing to people outside the field.

The following analogy may help to explain.

Orchestra Analogy

Think of an orchestra. The investment adviser is the equivalent of the director/conductor and the money managers are the instrumentalists. Each one is a specialist who plays a particular type of instrument, and it takes a variety of these specialists to make up the orchestra.


The broad specialties are the types of instruments, such as strings, brass, winds, and percussion. These are the equivalent of fund managers who specialize in asset classes like equities, bonds, real estate, commodities, and absolute returns.


Within each specialty are a variety of subspecialists. Winds, for example, include clarinets, oboes, and saxophones—which are further divided into alto, soprano, tenor, and bass. The brass section has French horns, trumpets, and trombones. The divisions and sub-divisions go on and on. Similarly, within the various asset classes are a great many mutual fund managers who specialize in narrower subcategories.


The task of the orchestra conductor-director is to pick, not just the best musicians, but the best mix of musicians. A group with only trumpets or every subspecialty of percussion, no matter how skilled, isn’t an orchestra. Before auditioning a single musician, the director’s first task is to clarify the purpose of the ensemble being created. A different mix of instruments will be required for a symphony, a marching band, an intimate chamber group, or a dance band. It all depends on what the audience wants.

The conductor-director needs to weigh the various musicians’ abilities against their cost and their specific specialties against the needs of the orchestra. When the right mix of players has been chosen, the director needs to pick the appropriate music, assemble the group, and rehearse. The director’s talent, experience, and leadership skills all serve to help the right players produce the right sound for their audiences.




It takes similar coordination and skill to put together the right mix of asset classes and mutual fund managers to produce the best results for various clients, especially since there are some 17,000 mutual funds to choose from.


Just as both the orchestra director and the musicians are paid based on their skills and their work, both mutual fund managers and investment advisers are paid based on the assets they manage. Mutual fund managers earn 0.05% to 3.0%. Financial advisers earn 0.30% to 3.0%. An informed consumer could pay as low as 0.35% while an uninformed consumer could pay up to 6% a year, which would eat up most of the investment returns.

One essential responsibility for an adviser, then, is to choose mutual fund managers whose fees are low.

However, the cost of the mutual fund manager isn’t the be-all and end-all. One must also weigh performance, just as an orchestra director might pay more to get an outstanding musician who would add significant value to the performances.


For example, my firm’s overall average fee for mutual fund managers is 0.5%. We could get that as low as 0.1%, which might be impressive at first glance.

However, we would give up 0.25% to 1.00% of net return in some areas, resulting in poorer outcomes for the clients.





Skilled direction of an orchestra is obviously more art than science. Skilled coordination of mutual fund managers is the same. Both require knowledge, integrity, and commitment to the quality of the final product.

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UPDATE: The Markets, SS COLAS, EY, and Monkey-Pox?



Markets: Stocks sagged for the second straight day, with technology chip stocks taking some of the biggest blows. A new consumer report showed that Americans are not confident in the economy, but are confident that inflation will be remain for the next year.

A Social Security official earlier this month said he expects a COLA bump of about 8%, based on the current inflationary trends. But if inflation continues at its current pace — the cost of goods and services in May accelerated to 8.6% — seniors could receive a COLA hike of 10.8% in early 2023, according to a new analysis from the non-partisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. If inflation grinds to a halt over the final months of 2022, seniors would receive a COLA increase of 7.3%, the group predicted. 

Ernst and Young (EY), one of the world’s largest auditing firms, has agreed to pay a $100 million SEC fine after admitting hundreds of its accountants have cheated on their ethics exams between 2017 and 2021.

US health officials ramped up their fight against the Monkeypox outbreak, expanding the group eligible to get vaccines and deploying more doses and testing capabilities.



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